ORLANDO, Fla. — Before there was Florida State, and well before Virginia Tech joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, there was only one football program in the ACC. That program was Clemson.
In the late 1950s through the 1960s, Frank Howard and his Tigers owned the ACC, winning six conference championships during a 14-year period. In a 15-year stretch from 1977-’91, no one in the league won more games or championships than Clemson as the program again won six ACC titles.
But soon after Danny Ford and Clemson parted ways after the 1990 season, Florida State joined the conference in 1992 and for the first time the Tigers played second-fiddle in the ACC. In 2004 Virginia Tech joined the league and won four ACC titles in a seven-year span.
Now, as the third-ranked Tigers get set to play No. 18 Virginia Tech in tonight’s ACC Championship Game, they have an opportunity to take ownership of what they feel is rightfully theirs. It has been 28 years since Clemson last won back-to-back ACC Championships.
“It would be huge to kind of leave that legacy here for our senior class. That would be awesome,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said.
But the Tigers’ opponent tonight, would like nothing more than to lay claim to a fifth ACC Championship of its own, which would give Virginia Tech the most conference titles since joining the league 12 years ago. Ironically, it was an upstart Clemson team in 2011, under a young head coach in Dabo Swinney that prevented former head coach and Hokie legend Frank Beamer from winning his fifth ACC title.
“We are both where we were back then,” Swinney said smiling earlier this week. “We are both in the championship game. Not much has changed in that regard.”
But a lot has changed.
Clemson (11-1) has since won another ACC title and played for a national championship. The Tigers have recorded six straight 10-win seasons and four straight bowl wins. The Clemson program is considered one of the best in the country.
Virginia Tech (9-3) on the other hand, struggled in their final years under Beamer, winning just 29 games in his last four years. But new head coach Justin Fuente has the Hokies in position to win another title in just his first year.
“I think for us, Virginia Tech, under Frank Beamer was as consistent of a program as there was in the country. They were having 10-win seasons over and over and over, bowl games … no one looked forward to playing Virginia Tech, that’s for sure. He and his program was a model of consistency.
“I’m thankful now, since 2011, we can look back and say, ‘Man, this is our fourth title game.’ We have been incredibly consistent as a program. I think, if anything, we have kind of grown to be a little more of the type of program they were for all those years under Coach Beamer.”
Now the Hokies are hoping to get back to where Beamer had them for all of those years.
“They are right back to where they have always been … competing for championships, especially since the joined this conference. They have done a heck of a job,” Swinney said. “Justin will do a great job. They made a great hire in Justin. He has Bud (Foster) and that all worked out. It is a really good situation for Virginia Tech. They will be a really consistent team for many years to come. I don’t have any doubt about it.”